“I can see Russia from my house! I can also see…”
ZACK CLOPTON’S 2008 MOVIE RETROSPECTIVE!!!
Greetings, boys and ghouls! 2008 was a surprising and important year, one that will go down in the history books as the moment America stood up and asked for change. It’s time to look back at the most important thing that happen in the past twelve months: The movies I saw!
I saw a fucking heaping load of them, 74 in total. I don’t know how many real movie critics see but, if I’m not in the ball park yet, I’m certainly sneaking into the cheap seats. I considered only featuring the notable titles but, eh, I had already written each mini-review. Those of you who don’t want to drudge through all of them can leave when ever you want.
But first… Taps.
Usually I reserve this section for some cute note about a pop culture artifact that is now no more. But, seriously, 2008 was a terrible year for celebrity deaths. A gratuitous number of interesting people passed away. And I’m blaming it all on Heath Ledger. He set the precedent back in January and everybody spent the rest of the year trying to top him. Two personal heroes of mine, Stan Winston and George Carlin, passed this year and I’m still a little pissed about it. The deaths of Forrest J. Ackerman, Rudy Ray Moore, Isaac Hayes, Charlton Heston, Eartha Kitt, Bettie Page, Levi Stubbs, Julius “Sho’Nuff” Carrey III, Don “Big Booming Voice Guy” LaFontaine, Estelle Getty, Bo Diddley, John Philip Law, Roy Scheider, and Brad Renfro all guarantee the universe is a lot less cooler now then it once was. And yet, Mickey Rooney continues to exist. The world is not a fair place.
Now that you’re all depressed, let’s have a short review!
2008 was a pretty badass year, truth be told. It was a little slow to start but we had a kickass summer movie season and there was plenty of interesting indie flicks sprinkled throughout. Oscar season has been good to us, thus far, as well. Though the mainstream horror scene was a little dull (Another “Saw” sequel?), fans willing to look would find many great, smaller titles. Maybe I’m just so happy with this year’s output because I pretty much saw everything I wanted to see. (Except for “Synecdoche, New York.” Damn you, “Synecdoche, New York!”)
Anyway, enough of that. Let’s get to the meat n’ potatoes, the main course, the main event, the headliner, the star, the body, THE LIST! Tremble before its girth. All spelling errors are intentional.
FOUR STAR FILMS:
1. The Fall
The tremendous visuals alone would be enough for me to recommend it to everyone. But the greatness doesn’t stop there. The story has a hundred different layers, you’ll be weeping by the end, and the cast is wonderful. With this one, Tarsem has come into his own as one of the great directors of our time.
Who knew a romance between two robots could be so touching? In addition to being a sweet love story, “WALL-E” is also visually gorgeous, often hysterical, and contains a topical story with a valuable message for all Earthlings. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with robots all over again.
3. Iron Man
My biggest disappointment is that most of the “Hell yeah!” moments were shown off in the trailer. Still, this is a well-written, well-acted superhero movie that is lots of fun, incredibly cool, and still has some relevant issues on its mind. This is what popcorn movies are supposes to be.
4. Let the Right One In
A touching and bittersweet coming-of-age story about two young people learning about friendship, love, and violence. Also, she’s a vampire. The horror elements, though handled extremely well, are used more to underline the themes of loneliness, the cold, and how our greatest strengths are tied directly to our inner darkness.
The brilliant premise by itself, which is either hilarious or disturbing depending on viewpoint (or gender), makes this worth seeing. Add a great lead performance from Jess Weixler and some cleaver writing/directing and you’ve got an awesome, sure-fire cult classic.
Neil Marshell’s direction is still choppy but you can’t fault his script any. “Doomsday” squeezes in as much badass as possible. Kick-ass babes, awesome car crashes, dystopian cities, cannibals, plagues, castles, death matches, gimps, scary punk rockers, lots of splattery gore, and more.
7. The Strangers
Everything about this movie; the minimalist music, the moody direction, the slow pacing, is designed to make you as anxious as possible. Convincing lead performances keep things grounded while the great shocker ending cements this as a truly scary horror film.
The most intense action movie I've seen in years. The last twenty minutes are nothing but wall to wall carnage. Despite Sly being old as hell and looking like horse meat, he can still deliver a flick that hauls serious ass.
THREE AND A HALF STAR FILMS:
9. The Midnight Meat Train
Kitamura masters the look every horror film’s gone after since “Seven.” The reflective silver, the putrid greens, the oozing black blood… His direction is amazingly stylish, Clive Barker’s original story is one of his best, and Vinnie Jones’ Mr. Mahogany will soon be a horror icon.
10. Speed Racer
Crazy awesome. The Wachowskis haven’t adapted a cartoon, they’ve made a cartoon that just happens to have real people in it. The races are exciting and the fight scenes are hilariously over-the-top. The cast is really good though Emile Hersch is flat. Sprittle and Chim-Chim are annoying. Still, there’s no denying it, my friends. Pancakes are love.
11. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Might not have been the biggest movie of the summer but one thing it has over Batman are highly lovable characters. The cast could have just been sitting around and talking the whole time and it still would’ve been awesome. (And three cheers for Guillermo del Toro, patron saint of practical creature effects! Fuck you, CGI!)
12. Tropic Thunder
The world needs more out of control comedies like this one. Easily the best thing most of its cast has done in a long time and it is jammed pack with hysterical bits from beginning to end. Sure, things drag a little at the end but, generally speaking, I laughed a lot.
An exceedingly twisted thriller all about murder, cadavers, kinky sex, drugs, bodily fluids, homoerotic undertones, and implied necrophilia. It is joyously demented, completely reckless, and possibly immoral. I think I’m in love.
14. Revolutionary Road
Possibly great and filled with vividly realized characters and themes. But it’s not a masterpiece. Many involved could have done better. Michael Shannon gives my favorite performance of the year as only person crazy enough to speak honestly about how fucked-up the situation is. It will rightfully make many top ten lists but I wonder how relevant it will be in a few years.
15. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
The musical numbers (yeah, you read that right) in the first half slow things down but once the zombie-chickens show up, things get awesomely Troma-tic with all the head crushing, penis monsters, decade old car crash footage, and general insanity you expect from the coolest film company in the world.
Awesome because it will make you despise the human race even more for how self-absorbed, careless, and lacking in empathy we’ve become and then makes you laugh for the exact same reasons. There’s a commendable cast, deep script, and an extremely satisfying ending.
17. The Signal
Is technically a creepy horror film and an uproariously funny dark comedy but is actually a scholarly examination of society’s collective fears and anxieties that threaten to boil over at every minute, all the while never loosing sight of its fantastic characters.
18. The Quantum of Solace
The shaky-cam direction and complicated plot were not as bad as I feared. Truthfully, Daniel Craig and the writers continue to put more thought into James Bond and his various themes then any other team before, all the while packing in some impressively thrilling action sequences.
This extremely violent French horror film pushes believability, and maybe good taste, a little too far in the last act. But the rest is filled with some seriously forceful gore sequences, solid lead performances, and an atmosphere that’s almost as thick as the copious blood flow.
20. The Incredible Hulk
The Hulk still looks fake but the classy cast, intense and often action, solid pacing, and numerous fan boy moments make this not only a serious improvement over the first try but a damn fine superhero picture in general.
21. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Against all odds, this actually turned out pretty good. If it wasn’t for two moments of pure stupidity, it would be on par with parts one and two. The cast is too big but the main players all have fun. And, least we forget, we’re here to have fun.
22. Repo! The Genetic Opera
Turns out Darren Lynn Bousman can direct. More important is the awesomely eclectic cast that all sing their hearts out. The real test of any musical is if you’re still singing the songs after you leave the theater. I was still singing the songs a month later.
23. The Machine Girl
In-between the machine gun arms, chainsaw legs, drill bras, Japanese schoolgirls, ninjas, and more mayhem, gore, and dismemberment then you can shake a bloody limb at, this has got something for everyone. Even if only about 50 of the 80 or so awesome ideas work, that’s still an awful lot of awesome.
24. The Lost
Religiously faithful to Jack Ketchum’s unsettling novel, perhaps too faithful, as it drags in the middle. But the incredibly intense final act makes up for it. Chris Sivertson’s direction is some what disappointing. The cast is perfect, especially Marc Senter who makes Ray Pye the scariest on-screen psycho in years.
25. Dolphin and Whales 3D
This would be a beautifully photographed though still fairly pedestrian underwater documentary if it wasn’t for the fantastic Imax 3-D technology, which turns it into an whole-other experience.
THREE STAR FILMS:
A long overdue satire of hardcore horror flicks, which cast a morbidly obese loser as its serial killer and neurotic suburbanites as the avenging parents. Darkly funny throughout with a first-rate cast and a cool retro soundtrack.
For a movie about talking animals, this is surprisingly grounded in reality. Add a real sense of heart and memorable characters and you’ve got the first really good Disney movie in quite some time.
28. Diary of the Dead
George Romero is back. And he’s pissed off! At the bloggers and YouTubers who prefer watching to acting. Definitely his scariest in years and the first-person camera makes the collapse of society felt even more. Not without cool gory moments or some twisted humor either.
The shaky-cam gimmick, which isn’t as annoying as you’d expect, actually provides this with a sense of real “you-are-there” urgency. Strong acting, characterization, and a few legitimate thrills makes this one almost worthy of the hype.
The believable, life-like characters and viciously fast attack sequences makes this killer croc picture captivating despite an occasionally formulaic story and some weak CGI during the finale.
Proof that crazy, over-the-top action theatrics can overcome anything, even a spotty script, shaky direction, and an overly pretty leading man. A swearing Morgan Freeman doesn’t hurt either.
32. Burn After Reading
We all expected this to be funnier, but you can’t help and smile as the Coen Brothers’ throw together another irrelevant, complicated plot that is ultimately unimportant and introduces an amusing cast of characters. The final scene with JK Simmons makes it all worth while.
33. The Bank Job
This fun little heist flick, a throw-back to ‘70s Brit gangster movies, has a lot of swagger and a typically convoluted story but it all builds up to a real satisfying conclusion.
34. Fear[s] of the Dark
The animation for this French horror anthology is very nice and the music is quite sinister. The six stories are a mixed bag. Three are quite good, two are underdeveloped, and one is flat-out boring. Intersecting the tales instead of playing them one at a time was a big mistake.
35. Be Kind Rewind
Anybody who misses the days of VHS and Ma and Pop video stores should give this a look. The lo-fi remakes of Hollywood flicks are the best part. The cast is fine, even if Jack Black’s shtick is old by now. The story’s a little cliché but overall this is a charming, bittersweet affair.
I’m still pissed that Lucky McKee was fired halfway through this job. Still, taken on its own, this is a low-key but thoughtful adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s simplistic and powerful morality tale. The best part is Brian Cox’s pitch perfect lead performance.
37. The Ruins
Malevolent vegetation isn’t the most frightening concept but it works here, for the most part. The main attraction is the grisly, ick-inducing body horror and the superb gore effects. But the acting/directing/writing are all perfectly solid with characters you don’t completely hate either.
38. The Forbidden Kingdom
A formulaic but still satisfying popcorn muncher. The fight scenes are the main attraction, especially the Jet Li/Jackie Chan face-off. I could have done without the American teenager shoehorned into the story.
TWO AND A HALF STAR FILMS:
39. Trapped Ashes
Keep your expectations low and this cheapie horror anthology will probably entertain. Sure, only one of the four stories really hits and at least two others are full fledge duds, but the whole thing is done in such a fun, sexy spirit that it’s kinda’ hard to dislike.
Good monster movies are so rare these days. “Splinter” isn’t an instant classic but the taunt script and good characters mean an “A” for effort. The creature designs seem interesting but the incoherent direction makes sure we never get a good look at them.
41. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
When Jet Li karate kicked a rocket into a trolley train, I knew I was on solid ground. The sincerely goofy cast is what always made these CGI-filled campfest fun anyway. Not as amusing as the first, less stupid then the second, despite the clumsy direction, I was entertained.
Uwe Boll is real proud of the “offends everyone” humor here, a lot of which is legitimately funny, but its Zach Ward and Dave Foley’s deadpan awesomeness that makes this watchable. Boll still has to learn about pacing since the energy stops dead with forty minutes left to go.
43. The Tracey Fragments
An unhappy indie that never quite comes together. (I realize that might be the point.) Ellen Page’s excellent performance provides some sort of anchoring force amidst all the chaos. The writing’s smart but inconclusive and the story’s interesting but leaves you asking what the point was.
This adaptation of my favorite Chuck Palahniuk book has an awesome cast and is going well until the third act, where it totally pussies out, castrates the novel’s essential mean streak, and adds an unsightly level of sentimentality that is completely wrong on many levels.
The big problem here is that Christina Ricci, even with a pig nose, is still pretty cute which makes everyone’s repulsion confusing. She does give a good performance even if the movie itself is only sporadically amusing and has a worn-out “accept yourself for who you are” message.
As long as our hero is a drunken misanthrope, things are pretty amusing. However, when shit gets serious towards the end, it becomes less interesting and the finale just tries too hard and wraps things up too neatly. The solid cast helps but this still isn’t one to build a franchise on.
More of a self-reflective indie then a self-reflective horror film. The cast is likable enough and the script has its clever moments but there isn’t a payoff to any of it, especially to the horror elements. Also, mumblecore is a retarded name for a subgenre.
48. Run, Fat Boy, Run
Simon Pegg’s willingness to act goofy and his relatable, likable slacker act makes it hard not to root for him, even in a routine “inspirational” rom-com like this. A lesser actor and it wouldn’t be worth seeing at all.
49. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The first “Narnia” was surprisingly good but that was before everyone was so sick of book-born fantasy franchises. There’s more action in this one, some of it diverting, and it’s not without moments. Still, it says a lot that a CGI mouse steals the show.
50. Deadly End
Despite some creative tricks in the first half, this nasty horror indie (originally entitled “Neighborhood Watch”) runs out of interesting gross-out gags before it’s over and finishes up with a slimy but dull finale. Nice try though.
TWO STAR FILMS:
51. An American Crime
When a true story is as horrifying as the Sylvia Likens case, you wouldn’t think there’d be need for embellishment. But director Tommy O’Haver saw fit to add awkward voiceovers, overdone music, and a frustrating dream sequence. The cast is strong but the material is ultimately too thin a treatment of the real events.
52. Return to Sleepaway Camp
Honestly, not as bad as I was expecting. The characters are obnoxious but at least developed and some of the kills are pretty clever. Lacks the retro-slasher feel completely and does nothing to build upon the “Sleepaway Camp” mythology.
53. Nobody Loves Alice
Lofty ambitions and an impressive array of indie acting talent aside, a sleep-inducing pace, cheesy editing, and a script that focuses on the least interesting aspect of the story makes sure that people will continue not to love Alice.
54. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
Should’ve been called “Jack Brooks: Disgruntled Plumber.” Everything feels underdone and overly constrained while simultaneously feeling like an amalgam of parts from better movies and the prologue to a not-necessarily more interesting bigger story.
A bowling alley is a great setting for a slasher, especially an uber-gory, X-rated one. But annoying characters, repetitive music, uneven acting, and slight writing undoes all the profane gusto and grindhouse flare the director/writer managed to create.
56. The Spiderwick Chronicles
A competently made but unremarkable family fantasy flick. There are some cute moments and the special effects are above average but your kids are unlikely to remember this one a month later.
We saw all the gore in the trailer and the scares are projected far in advance. The only entertaining moments were when Kiefer started Jack Bauer-ing every mirror he saw. If the whole movie was just him punching stuff, it would have been way more entertaining.
58. The Dark Knight
The plot is convoluted, the pacing is awful, there’s very little action, and the writers fatally misunderstood the Joker. It’s long, depressing, and unsatisfying, but the biggest crime is that this is a summer blockbuster that is no fun. It’s escapist entertainment that forgot the escapism.
59. Death Race
Everything that was great about the original “Death Race 2000” is dropped, the plot is clichéd, and there’s a lot of the director’s trademark stupidity. Still, I didn’t completely hate it. The race sequences are actually pretty exciting and Jason Statham is a likable lead.
60. Smart People
As soon as you realize that all these depressed people are going to get a happy ending, it stops being interesting. This was much better back when it was called “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I did like the semi-incestuous relationship between the daughter and her adopted uncle.
61. Wizard of Gore
The original isn’t my favorite Hershel Gordon Lewis joint so I had no issue with a remake. Crispin’s awesome, as you’d expect, but the rest is less so. It tells a straight forward story in a needlessly complicated way and has a muddy visual style.
62. The Other Boleyn Girl
If Scarlet Johanson or Natalie Portman showed some skin during any of the numerous humping scenes, I would have liked this better. The lack of any decent characters is the main flaw and my interest waned long before the muddled conclusion.
Never as disturbing as it wants to be but is just so aggressively freakish that, at the very least, you’re never bored. Like “Mad Cowgirl” or “Lucky” before it, this is the jumbled, barely coherent thoughts of a disturbed person, which makes it deeply personal but never well-made.
64. Charlie Bartlett
Like a lot of high schoolers, this movie mistakes smarm for intelligence. The story starts out unlikely and becomes increasingly ridiculous as it goes on. The better-then-it-deserves cast wrangles some laughs out of the smartass script. And, really, what high school has a fucking student lounge anyway?
A French “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with annoying shaky-cam direction and no subtlety. The extreme gore, Nazism, violence to women, and other forced unpleasantness makes the filmmaker seem like an adolescent boy obsessed with being “hardcore.”
66. The Mother of Tears
Out of all the disappointing things about this, and, believe me, there are a lot, what depressed me the most is that Dario Argento has almost completely abandoned his normal amazing style for Hollywood action tactics and cheap shock value. The gore is nice, I guess. Sigh.
For an obsessive drama like this to work, we need to relate to the main character in a personal way. Joel Moore is too weird and awkward to be likable, much less relatable. Zachary Levi is an asshole and Amber Tamblyn isn’t believable. The ending is dumb. Nice soundtrack.
68. April Fool’s Day
The talented directors have tried their best to equip this lame remake with some teeth. Things pick up towards the end and there’s some celebrity gossip satire. Despite the attempt, this is still a horribly scored, often unintentionally funny bore with the production values of a Lifetime TV movie.
ONE AND A HALF STAR FILMS:
69. Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
Some of the first’s wackiness is maintained (Naked lesbian bikers! Midget wrestlers! Monster jizz!) but none of it’s energy, leading to a tiresome pace. Gulager’s still weak direction, forced attempts at shock value, and the general nihilistic tone don’t improve matters.
70. The Cottage
The flippant score lets you know this is supposes to be very “wacky” and amusing, despite the characters being the most irritating I’ve seen in a good while. By the time the murderous maniac starts to off the unlikable lot, it’s really too little, too late.
71. Funny Games
I hate Michael Haneke’s philosophies but he knows how to make you squirm. Some day he’ll make a great mainstream thriller. Until then, you have to take the thrills and his prick attitudes together. That’s not a compromise worth making. Naomi Watts does look nice in her underwear.
ONE STAR FILMS:
72. Prom Night
The original “Prom Night” isn’t all that good, but at least the people who made it cared. The only thing those responsible for this remake cared about was the dollars they could finagle from easily startled teenage girls. A blatant product with no soul.
73. Strange Wilderness
All the funny jokes are used in the first ten minutes and then the non-plot just meanders on and on while the characters annoy you. Not even Ernest Borgnine taking bong hits could save this one.
74. Day of the Dead
Ridiculous things happen in this movie. So much so that somebody along the way should have said, “Dude, this is retarded.” The zombies look stupid and act even worse, plot is routine, effects are cheap, dialogue is embarrassing... Horror remakes have officially hit their nadir. I only wish they hadn’t dragged George Romero down with them.
(I also saw two forgien films this year, the excellent "[REC]" and the pretty good "Grimm Love," that have yet to have official stateside releases, despite the former being remade as “Quarantine.” Thus their exclusion from the list.)
There you go. So, 2009, what of it? My top picks for the fore coming year are:
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. The Princess and the Frog
4. The Lovely Bones
5. Drag Me to Hell
6. Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen
7. Whip It!
8. Untitled Todd Solondz Project
9. Star Trek
10 (tie). Crank 2: High Voltage
10 (tie). The Wolf Man
Other upcoming titles of note:
9, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, Away We Go, Bad Biology, Books of Blood, The Box, Cabin Fever 2, Coraline, The Dead Sleep Easy, Delightful Water Universe, The Descent Part 2, Dragonball, Embodiment of Evil, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Fluid Drips Twice, Friday the 13th, Game, Giallo, A Gothic Tale, Go Go Tales, H2, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Jennifer’s Body, Micmacs à tire-larigot, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, Nailed, Ninja Assassin, …Of the Dead, Ponya on the Cliff, Poughkeepsie Tapes, Public Enemies, The Road, A Serious Man, Sherlock Holmes, Shutter Island, Splice. Terminator Salvation, Tetro, Trick r’ Treat, Up, Where the Wild Things Are, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Youth in Revolt
Goddamn, I need a life. Anyway, kids, that’s that. See you again soon. And always, thanks for reading.